Tokyo Disneyland and its equally whimsical, yet unequivocally wetter neighbor, Disneysea, are two of the most popular destinations in Japan. Despite the three-hour ride queues, overpriced stale churros and the clean-shaven kid in a fedora standing in front of The Indiana Jones Adventure signing autographs, people still go. Everyone also seems to have a super secret plan on how to avoid the crowds. As if no one reads the same super secret websites. Newsflash: people don’t care about cold weather or rainy days, and no one cares about your lucrative theories on the best time to go or how you can totally skip lines by telling Goofy you’re riding single.
Tokyo Disneyland sucks. It’s an over-hyped agoraphobic nightmare every day of the year. The lines are so long that the Japanese have coined the “Disney curse” due to so many couples breaking up after standing in line for so long and fighting. If you enjoy going despite the crowds, then knock yourself out. This is more of a warning for the sane people out there that can’t see themselves queuing in line for an hour over a turkey leg. Tokyo is huge, and there are more than enough options out there to get your Disney-esque fix.
Toshimaen is the type of fun park most of us experienced as children. It’s an easily accessible amusement park with a few old roller coasters, swinging pirate ships, fun-houses, merry-go-rounds and that looming sense of dread that you get when you’re not too sure if this thing is going to hold together or not. But in the end isn’t that part of the fun?
You could call the park nostalgic, though I’ve definitely heard more than a few people refer to it as “broken down.” A realtor might call it a “fixer-upper.” While it’s true the park isn’t as clean or as new as other parks in Tokyo, I have definitely seen worse. Besides, it’s a decently sized park with a nice variety of thrills for a cheapo price of 300 to 500yen per ride. You can pay as you go, but entering the park is 1000yen for adults so if you think you might want to spend the day here you might as well pay 4200yen for the day-pass. It’s worth mentioning that in the summer, Toshimaen doubles as a popular water-park called HydroPolis. Be warned though, patrons with tattoos will be denied entry to both parks.
|Access:||From Ikebukuro Station take the Seibu Ikebukuro Line and get off at Toshimaen Station (1 minute by foot)|
From Shinjuku Station take the Oedo Line for Higarigaoka and get off at Toshimaen Station (2 minutes by foot)
|Price Admission:||1000yen entry for adults (elementary school students 500yen, free for children under. One Day Free Pass 3800yen for adults, 2800yen for children.Pool season: Pool plus unlimited rides: Adults 4300 yen (3800yen without unlimited rides).|
|Website:||http://www.toshimaen.co.jp (In Japanese)|
|Business hours:||9:00am to 8:00pm (hours may vary), open daily in July and August, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the off-season|
5. Yokohama Cosmo World
On the other end of that spectrum and nestled on the border of Yokohama and overlooking Tokyo Bay is the neon-wonderland of an amusement park called Cosmo World. The park is free to enter and features à la carte style thrills ranging from 300yen to 800yen. While like Toshimaen in that it’s more of a traditional amusement park than Disneyland, with its fun houses and carnival rides, the park still manages pull off a spectacular and slick look. A large Ferris-wheel overlooks the ocean on all sides, and a jet coaster actually plunges you into the Ooka River.
While fun for kids in the daytime, the park really comes to life at night when the place is lit up like Christmas all year long. It’s the type of light pollution that you can really get behind. The park on its own makes for a fun outing, but the surrounding area is great too thanks to its abundant attractions, restaurants and bars. Right across the street is the Cup Noodle Museum, and China Town is within walking distance. Due to it’s popularity with families and couples I probably wouldn’t visit too long on the weekend, but I’ve personally never seen Disney levels of people at Cosmo World.
|Name:||Yokohama Cosmo World|
|Access:||2 min. walk from Minatomirai Station: Minatomirai Line|
10 min. walk from Sakuragicho Station: JR Keihin Tohoku Negishi Line / Municipal Subway
|Price Admission:||No entrance fee, attractions cost 300yen-800yen each.|
|Website:||http://cosmoworld.jp/ (In Japanese)|
|Business hours:||Weekdays 11:00am-9:00pm / weekends 11:00am-10:00pm|
Closed on Thursdays, Irregular holiday
4. Sanrio Puroland
In Japan, the word for cute is kawaii. Everyone aspires to be kawaii and every organization has a kawaii mascot. You either go kawaii or you go home, and it doesn’t get much more kawaii than Hello Kitty. Known as Kittychan in Japan, the character has become a cultural and world famous icon so it should come to no surprise that she’d have a theme park built in her honor.
Everything at Sanrio Puroland is geared towards children, and the only rides consist of an adorable boat and train ride, so unless you’re an adult with kids, a fan of Sanrio characters or just enjoy watching grown Japanese adults rocking out to cartoon show tunes, it probably isn’t for you. However what the theme park lacks in thrills it does make up for in impressive live performances. During the summer there is also a nightly firework show. Sanrio Puroland is probably the most like Disneyland on the list in terms of shows and costumes. In the end is your kid really going to spot the difference between a cat and a mouse anyway?
|Access:||5 minutes by foot from Keio Sagamihara Line, Odakyu Tama Line, Tama toshi Monorail Tama-center Station. (Approximately 28 minutes from Shinjuku, using Keio Line bound for Hashimoto)|
|Price Admission:||Adults (18 years and over) 3300yen|
Child (3-17 years) 2500yen. Holiday price Adult (18 years and over) 3800yen
Child (3-17 years) 2700yen
|Business hours:||Weekdays 10:00am to 5:00pm | Weekends 10:00am to 8:00pm|
3. Namja Town
Namja Town is one of the worst theme parks I have ever been to and that is why it is awesome. It’s so incredibly bad that I just can’t help but enjoy myself every time I go. I mean where do I begin? The haunted house makes Manos: The Hands of Fate look scary. There is a ride that seats you and a partner in one of those mosquito repellent ceramic pigs and…that’s it. You shoot mosquitoes. There is also a fishing game where people run around flailing wildly at random locations trying to catch virtual fish. You’ll just be sitting down in one of the themed dining booths and out of no where a grown man will just appear next to you wildly attempting to murder fish.
There is also a part of the theme park dedicated to gyoza (dumplings), home to the “Ikebukuro Gyoza Stadium.” Each booth is supposed to represent a different style of gyoza, but it is always so bad and overpriced I wouldn’t bother. On the other hand, the ice cream booth is the real star. With flavors like snake, ramen and coal, you can play one crazy game of ice cream Russian roulette. Namja Town used to have a large area called Ice Cream Town. There were tons of flavors lining the walls of a massive walk-in refrigerator. Now it’s just one tiny booth. There are other parks that I would consider bad (Hanayashiki), but the cheesiness of Namja Town will ensure you of a good time. At least until the joke wears off. It helps that the park is located in Ikebukuro’s massive Sunshine Town Mall.
|Name:||Namco Namja TownAccess|
|Access:||Approximately 8 minutes by foot from JR Tobu Tojo Line, Seibu Ikebukuro Line Ikebukuro Station. Approximately 3 minutes by foot from Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line Higashi Ikebukuro Station. Approximately 4 minutes by foot from Toei streetcar (Toden) Arakawa Line Higashi-ikebukuro 4 chome Station|
|Price Admission:||Adult – 500yen Child – 300yen (entry only), Day pass 3300yen / 2600yen (entry and unlimited rides, and I use “rides” very loosely) After 3:00pm Day pass 2300yen / 1800yen .|
|Website:||http://www.namco.co.jp/tp/namja/index.html (In Japanese)|
|Business hours:||10:0am to 10:00pm (entry until 9:00pm)|
2. Tokyo Dome City Attractions
Tokyo Dome Dome City Attractions is one of the most popular amusement parks in Tokyo. Like Cosmo World, everything feels modern and new. The theme park has the worlds first hubless Ferris wheel and a large steel roller coaster tumbles and weaves over the Tokyo skyline. There is even a mini-Splash Mountain. My only real complaint is the prices are way too expensive. You pretty much have to buy a day or night pass, and the weekend crowds are just as ridiculous. At least the park has the decency to close early if the crowds get too bad. The park is easy enough to find too. Tokyo Dome City Attractions is located in Tokyo Dome City right next to Tokyo Dome Stadium. Be sure to take all the Dome photos you want.
The park is also located next to my personal favorite garden in Tokyo, Koshikawa Korakoen. I’m pretty sure Tokyo Dome has made people forget all about this park, which is a shame, but also kind of great because I have never seen it crowded. Not even during the cherry blossoms. In fact, Tokyo Dome City Attractions was known as Korakuen for the past 50 years. It wasn’t until in the last decade when the name was officially changed. I guess when you build a roller coaster that screeches through a hole in the sky people just forget all about ancient Chinese gardens.
|Name:||Tokyo Dome City Attractions|
|Access:||5 min. walk from JR Chuo Sobu Line“Suidobashi” Station East Exit; 5 min. walk from Toei Mita Line “Suidobashi” Station Exit A5; 3 min walk from Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line and Nanboku Line “Korakuen”Station Exit No.2|
|Price Admission:||Free to enter the park. Day Pass: 3,800 yen (adults), 3,300 yen (teens), 2,000 yen (children), 1,200 yen (young children)|
Night passes: five-ride passes and line-skip passes are also available.
|Business hours:||10:00am to 9:00pm / May vary depending on season/events.|
Located in one of my favorite Tokyo hot spots, Odaiba, is the Sega arcade amusement park Joypolis. You remember Sega? It does what Ninten-don’t. That apparently includes indoor theme parks because this place is a blast, at least for a couple of hours. The park’s hallmark is virtual reality styled attractions, interactive rides, and enough Hatsune Miku to make you question and marvel humanity all at the same time. Suffice to say, it caters to the otaku crowd.
Of particular interest there is an interactive jet coaster that changes its theme every year. For example on my last visit I battled waves of the undead in a horror environment before speeding and tumbling over the heads of fellow patrons. Another attraction straps you and a friend to an oversized skateboard that rocks back and forth. You each have to synchronize your footwork in order to make the skateboard spin and rack up points. Trust me when I say it’s a lot easier said than done.
The day passes at Joypolis are 4300yen for adults and 3300 yen for kids. I have personally never spent more than three hours here tops, so I highly recommend getting the night pass when they’re available after 5:00 P.M. That is when a day pass drops to 2,800 yen for adults, or even go for the the “late-night pass” after 8:00 P.M. which is even cheaper. Like Cosmo World, I wouldn’t recommend visiting on a weekend, but I’ve yet to experience large crowds at Joypolis. That’s why I’m able to leave after three hours. I’ve done everything. Also, stay away from the food and gift shop. There are more than enough cheap options to eat at in Odaiba, and anyone that pays 7,000 yen for a Sonic the Hedgehog hoodie needs to take a good hard look at themselves.
|Access:||– 2 minutes by foot from Shimbashi Station on the Yurikamome Line (Tokyo Waterfront New Transit Waterfront Line)|
– 5 minutes by foot from Tokyo Teleport Station on the Rinkai Line
|Price Admission:||Entrance: Adults – 800yen / 60 years+ – free / Child – 500 yen|
Day Pass/ Night Pass/ Late Night Pass:
Adult / 4300yen / 3300yen / 2800yen
Child / 3300yen / 2300yen /2300yen
|Business hours:||10:00 am-10:00 pm (Last entry 9:15 pm)|
August, 2016 / 10:00 am-11:00 pm (Last Entry 10:15 pm)
From August 11 to 16 2016 / 9:00 am-11:00 pm (Last Entry 10:15 pm)
Cheapo Bonus: Theme Park ‘Experiences’
Every time someone brings up their love of Tokyo Disney they can’t stop gushing about how good the food is. This is a lie. It is demonstrably false that the food at Tokyo Disney is good. It is quite actually some of the blandest overpriced pre-frozen food you will ever have the displeasure of eating. The one exception are the turkey legs, literally because it’s a turkey leg and it’s the only damn place in Japan where you can enjoy turkey. “But the churros are so good!” someone is undoubtedly moaning in their Mickey Mouse onesie. This is another lie people use to justify waiting in line, used by people who have only ever experienced churros as human cattle at Disneyland. If you’re looking for the best damn churros in Japan, look no further than Ikebukuro.
Located across the street from the famous Sunshine mall and sharing space with a Pronto Cafe is a little window spitting out the best damn churros in Japan called Churro Star. For over a year I didn’t even know what the joint was named. It was just “the best damn churros shop“. Cinnamon is my lady, but this place is like Merlon’s magical shop of churros. Mix it up with a sweet potato churro, or throw caution to the wind and pack that baby with chocolate ice cream. Your arteries be damned. The churros are fresh and cooked right in front of you for 250 yen. That’s 100 yen less than that stale dry abomination that Disney shills.
|Access:||Toshima-ku, Tokyo Ikebukuro 1-21-13 / seven minutes from Ikebuluro station|
|Website:||http://www.churrostar.jp/index.html (In Japanese)|
|Business hours:||12:00 to 20:00, seven days a week|
Let’s be real here. If we were all real cheapos talking about popcorn we’d be going to Costo and getting a year’s supply worth for 1,000 yen. Let’s just pretend that popcorn at Disneyland is worth the trip. Since a Mickey Mouse head full of the stuff is the one souvenir I always see people leaving with, so it must be good. I guess it’s just too hard to screw up something as arbitrary as sprinkling powdered sugar on small kernels of corn exploded by heat. Regardless, you could go to Disneyland if you were in the mood for white chocolate- or pepper-flavored popcorn. However, there are better options out there. If you’re wanting to experience the wait times of Disney for an exaggerated luxury, look no further than Garrett Popcorn in spots like Harajuku.
I honestly have no idea why that place is so popular. Every time I walk past it and even glance into the shop, the staff lining people up rudely try to shuffle me in with them. Like it’s some kind of big secret. I think the people that are actually in line are just accidental hostages. Your popcorn isn’t that tight, Garrett. For fanciful flavors without terrorist staff working the street, I’d recommend POP! in Shibuya, or Kukuruza Popcorn in Odaiba, or literally any of the popcorn shops we at Tokyo Cheapo have already found for you.
Japan’s First Dreamland:
Ok, this one is cheating because while Nara Dreamland is not located anywhere near Tokyo, there is one thing I can promise you and that is that your visit to this Disneyland knock-off will be entirely crowd free. It doesn’t get better than that, am I right? Of course I can’t guarantee your visit will be free of ghost children, axe-murdering clowns, or the Scooby Doo Gang because Nara Dreamland has been abandoned for over 10 years.
Nara Dreamland opened up in 1961 as the Disney of Japan before Japan ever had a Disney. When Disney actually came to Japan in 1983, it was nothing more than the park could do than try to stay financially afloat. The park officially closed due to low visitor numbers in 2006, and it’s amazing it lasted that long. Since then it’s become a popular destination for urban explorers, photographers and insufferable Youtubers. Also keep in mind that the locals have security guarding the place, so if the ghost don’t catch you, the back of a security guard’s baton might.
|Access:||1900 Horen-cho 630-8113 Nara|
|Price:||Ghost children following you home and a hefty fine if the police catch you.|
|Website:||Ghost can’t make websites.|
|Business hours:||I definitely wouldn’t visit after dark.|
Watch this next
New Video: A Cheapo's Day Trip Guide to Kamakura
Kamakura is a coastal city famous for its rich history, numerous Buddhist shrines and temples, scenic views and beaches.